A short hop to Rabbit Lake
In early April Carl Portman breaks trail to Rabbit Lake. Suicide peaks are in background.
Frank E. Baker
There are so many skiing destinations in Chugach State Park, it’s oftentimes difficult to choose. But in early April a good friend who lives on Anchorage’s Hillside, Carl Portman, made up my mind for me and suggested we point our skis uphill for a five-mile trek into Rabbit Lake, which lies about 3,000 feet at the base of North and South Suicide Peaks.
The popular trail is accessed via Canyon Road that takes off from Upper DeArmoun Road. There isn’t much space for parking, so vehicles are generally crowded at the trailhead.
Skies were blue and there was barely a breath of wind as we carried our skis along the trail’s first few hundred yards, which was packed down hard by other skiers and snowboarders. Trails leading up to Flattop branched off from several locations on our left as we made the gradual ascent, clipping into our skis as the trail narrowed and flattened out.
A few telemark skiers and snowboarders were venturing up the backside of Flattop, and with very stable slopes, avalanche danger was minimal.
The temperature was about 35 degrees, but the sun reflecting off the snow made it feel like a 60-degree radiant oven. My 100-rated sunblock was applied liberally. The set track ended after four miles, so we took turns breaking trail through about a foot of new snow, some of it powder.
Reaching the lake in early afternoon, we skied up on a knoll that offered a nice view of Turnagain Arm, to the west. The ridge we were on stretched up to McHugh Peak, and the Suicide Peaks (each about 5,000 feet) loomed above the frozen lake to the south.
After a leisurely lunch, we finally pointed our skis downhill for the run back to the parking lot. Just as we were leaving, we saw two skiers approaching. They had full packs and were obviously coming in to camp.
“We hope to see the northern lights tonight,” said the woman, catching her breath. “Thanks for breaking trail for us!”
“You’re welcome!” Carl replied. “Have a great time — you’ll probably have the place to yourself tonight.”
Sound carries in the outdoors. Farther down the trail, I could hear the woman tell the guy she was with: “You meet the nicest people out on the trails here in Alaska…”
The warmth of that sentiment was comforting, given that fact I was facing a five-mile downhill run that would challenge my skiing ability. During the rapid descent I managed to control my speed by moving over into the deeper snow on the side of the trail -- and I only wiped out once. If it took us 3-1/2 hours on the uphill trudge, it was not much more than an hour on the return trip. Carl, a 30-year Hillsider accustomed to a lot of verticality, was in heaven.
Chugach State Park’s Rabbit Lake is a fabulous destination, winter or summer. We didn’t observe any wildlife on this particular trip, but it is not uncommon to see moose, eagles, ptarmigan and during spring/summer/fall, the occasional bear. Generally, the alpine wildflowers are out in force by the first week of July, but with this spring’s cool temperatures and residual snow, they might be a couple of weeks late.
I used to cross-country ski off the top of Gunsight Mountain (6,441 feet) in the Talkeetna Mountains, but that was many years ago before two knee surgeries. Having not mastered telemarking, I’ve never been very good at downhill cross-country skiing. But the recent Rabbit Lake trip instilled enough confidence to make me want to go again--as long as there is some loose snow on the side for braking!
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: firstname.lastname@example.org.